Quick bible quiz. Get
out a piece of lined paper and put your books away. Sorry couldn’t resist.
Actually I am going to have you talk with the people around you and see if you
can come up with the answers together. You know that there are four gospels in
the bible that tell about the life and work of Jesus. Question 1. How many of
those four gospels feature a story of his birth? Discuss with your neighbors.
[pause] Question 2. How many of the four gospels feature a story of Jesus’
baptism? Discuss with your neighbors. [pause]
Okay, let’s see how
you did. Question 1. How many of the four gospels feature a story of Jesus’
birth? The answer is 2. Matthew and Luke and they tell us different parts of
the story. Luke tells us about the shepherds and the angels, and Jesus being laid
in a manger. Matthew tells us about
Joseph’s struggle whether to stay with Mary or not, and the wise men following
the star. In the other two gospels: Mark
actually mentions nothing of Jesus’ childhood, and John has a discussion of
Jesus being the word of God who was from the beginning, but doesn’t say
anything about Jesus’ actual birth.
Question 2. How
many of the four gospels feature a story of Jesus’ baptism? The answer is 4, all
of them. What this suggests is that Jesus’ baptism is more critical to his
ministry than any of the Christmas stories. There is something central to this
moment at the beginning of his ministry that we need to know. Even more
interesting, and revealing is that the four gospels all tell us pretty much the
same story. Let me read you what it says in Matthew 3:13-17
At that time Jesus came from Galilee
to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. John tried to stop him and
said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”
Jesus answered, “Allow me to be
baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”
So John agreed to baptize Jesus. When
Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened
to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on
him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find
happiness in him.”
All four of the
gospels contain a story that is more or less like that.
Jesus comes to John, is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon Christ, then
the voice of God speaks and reveals that Jesus is the Son of God. Quite honestly as you listen
to those common parts of the story, you can see why it is so central.
First of all, we have the son of God allowing a human prophet baptize him.
In Matthew we even get a discussion of that moment as John objects, “You should
be baptizing me!” When you think of it, it is kind of weird. Why is the Holy
One, the Sinless One, being baptized by someone who is sinful? What is going on
One very early Christian writer, says that Jesus only came to John the
Baptist to appease his mother and brothers.
The Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is one of the gospels that
failed to be included in the New Testament says, “Behold the mother of the Lord
and his brothers said to him, “John the Baptist baptizes for the remission of
sins; let us go and be baptized by him. “But he said to them, “What sin have I
committed, that I should go and be baptized by him? Except perhaps this very
thing that I have said is ignorance.”
Our only real clue to why this is happening is Jesus’ answer to John. What
Jesus says, is that this is necessary now to fulfill all righteousness. In
other words, it is the right thing to do in the eyes of God. Which is sort of
like a parent saying, “Because I said so.”
But still there is a reason why God is saying so. I think the most
compelling explanation is that Jesus is starting his ministry in much the same
way that he will end it. He is submitting to human authority as a way of doing
God’s will – just like he will do on the cross. And that submission will bring
righteousness for all people. There is something critical to God’s plan that
the savior acts humbly and allows us as human beings to take control.
Throughout the bible we see God reversing expectations, with the weak being
strong and the strong being weak. And this moment is no different.
Charles Hoffacker says this:
“There is a vital connection between baptism and mission. Another way to
put it is that there is a vital connection between going down and going out. We
do not play our part in the world's redemption when we climb ladders so much as
when we are pulled downward. It is out of our pain that we heal. It is out of
our poverty that we make others rich. It is from our ignorance that we
enlighten others. It is by our brokenness that others become whole. It is from
our dying that others come to life. We must follow Jesus in his descent, we
must accept his downward mobility and our own if we are to be his true disciples,
if we are to allow resurrection in our lives.’
“In this terrible demand that we go down with Jesus in downward mobility,
that we go down with him in the murky waters of the river and the dark waters
of death in this terrible demand there is good news for us.”
And there is the connection, baptism is in many ways a submission to death.
The connection has long been understood that entering the waters is like
entering the tomb, we are dead because of sin, we are subject to the hold of
death; but when we rise from the waters we are freed from sin and freed from
the power of death by resurrection power. So it seems that what Jesus is doing
is helping us see that connection between the beginning of his ministry and the
end. That in both his submission to human authority leads to death, but his
reliance on the power and love of God leads to resurrection.
The second critical element of the story as told by the gospels is
that in this
moment, the Holy Spirit comes upon Christ. We are told it looks like a dove
(thus the picture). The Holy Spirit is a reminder that baptism isn’t just about
the water and being cleansed from sin. While that is often the simple way we
explain what is happening, baptism is always by water and the Spirit. There is
always the coming of the presence of God into the life of the person baptized.
And when God comes into your life, God brings power.
You see before this point in Jesus’ life, he was rather ordinary in how he
lived, but now he will begin to do miracles, to call followers, to change the
world. Baptism isn’t just about what is taken away, but it is also about what
is added to us, given to us, so that we can do miracles, call others to the
work of God, and to change the world.
Finally, in all accounts, the baptism story closes with God
revealing who Jesus
is, and how deeply God approves of and loves his servant. It is God making sure
that Jesus knows this, it is God making sure that John knows it, it is God
making sure that we know it. So that as Jesus teaches, as he does his ministry,
we understand where his authority and power come from. He is not just another
prophet, in fact, he is not just the promised one, or the messiah, but he is
God’s own Son. And in coming among us, and walking with us, this divine
presence tells us just how deeply loved we are by a good and gracious God.
So those are why
the baptism of Jesus is in every gospel.
to human authority connects his baptism with his death, the Holy Spirit coming
upon him brings God’s power into full view, and the voice that speaks reminds
us how much God loves and approves of Jesus. As we see those things: what we
discover about ourselves and our baptism, is that we too go down into the
waters of death with him, but we are raised to new life, we too are baptized in
the Holy Spirit and not only are we cleansed of sin, but we are gifted with
life-changing and world-changing power. And finally, we hear the wonderful
message through the grace of God, that we too are the beloved of God, a delight
to our creator, children of the Heavenly One. Pretty important messages, I
The Daily Study Bible Series, The Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay.
Networks, Inc., Downward Mobility, by Charles Hoffacker